Let’s visit the special world of Peacocks and Pinecones. Behind this double name is a young artist who gives embroidery a very modern, funny and fascinating sense. Sometimes you have to look very closely to see that her works are not photos or paintings!
Photos – © Peacoks and Pinecones by Lucy Simpson
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Where did it start
Hello my name is Lucy and my Instagram name is @peacocksandpinecones.
I grew up in East Yorkshire, England and had an interest in arts and crafts from a young age. My Gran taught me to knit and sew, however I never managed to learn crochet. I used to spend a lot of my spare time drawing and by the time I went to secondary school I became quite obsessed with getting my drawings perfect, often repeating them several times until I was happy with them. I am no longer striving for perfection with my stitching as I realise that it is hard to achieve and setting myself up for disappointment, but I am trying to improve my technique with each piece.
After school I studied art at college, and it was there that I really improved my observational drawing skills. We had life drawing classes every week and our tutor used a metronome to teach us to look at the subject then back at the paper to the rhythm of the metronome, all while keeping the pencil drawing continuously. I learned to see and draw the shapes and lines of the models form rather than seeing an arm or a leg or even a person. I didn’t realise the significance at the time but looking back now, it is probably the most important part of my artistic journey.
I studied Contemporary Crafts at University and learned techniques in wood, metal, ceramics, and textiles in the first year and later focused on metal and ceramics. I enjoyed the course, and I learned a lot, but I didn’t feel a deep connection to any of the materials or work I was producing. After University I had several jobs, none of which really allowed me to use my degree in any way and I had a long period of time where I wasn’t creating much at all. After my third child I suffered post-natal depression and anxiety and I needed a way to switch off the intrusive thoughts in my head. My sister bought me a cross stitch kit for my birthday or possibly Christmas and I enjoyed following the pattern and it gave me focused periods of time where I didn’t think of anything else apart from stitching.
Thankfully I recovered but even now having a creative outlet is essential for my mental well-being. After a while I started feeling a bit restricted with the kits and I wanted the freedom to create my own pieces without a pattern or rules to follow. I saw the beautiful embroidery of Chloe Giordano, Margaret Dier and Emilie Ferris and I saw them refer to it as thread painting and I knew I had to try it. I started off stitching birds and insects and I was hooked. I still occasionally draw but I prefer stitching now, the texture and beauty of thread are hard to beat in my opinion. I started my Instagram page to have a record of what I was creating and later opened an Etsy shop.
I always regretted leaving textiles behind at university but in a way I’m glad I did. I feel that if I was taught traditional embroidery techniques, I would not be producing the work I do today. I don’t have any rules to follow, and I don’t feel like I’m doing anything the wrong way. I am truly in awe of the embroidery produced by many of the artists I follow on social media who use traditional techniques and I used to feel like a bit of a fraud calling my pieces embroidery art. I know now that there is room for us all and what I’m doing isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
How I work
When I first started my embroidery journey, I was quite haphazard and disorganised, often working on multiple projects at a time, fitting it in around family life, often stitching late into the evening. I decided to become a full-time artist when my youngest daughter started school. I tried to be more organised and now I try and see a piece through to the end before starting a new one. I often struggle to concentrate, and my mind often switches from one thing to another like a ball in a pinball machine, so it takes a lot of self-discipline to sit and stitch for hours, particularly if things are going on around me. I work during the day when the house is quiet and everybody else is out at school, University, or work. Sometimes I listen to music or listen to something on Netflix but often I just work in silence.
I start most of my pieces the same way, taking a photo or using a photo from a copyright free image website, then drawing the image onto the fabric. I like to try out different fabrics, patterned or plain depending on what catches my eye. Sometimes it works and enhances the piece and sometimes it doesn’t. Originally it would depend on which fabrics were in the mixed pack I bought. I used to do a basic sketch or outline when I was stitching birds, I found it easy to see the area I was working on and transfer the details from the photos using thread. Now I do very detailed drawings which often take me several hours, but it helps me enormously when distinguishing one area of faceted glass that looks very similar to the next, it helps me avoid mistakes. I don’t really undo my stitching as I try and avoid making mistakes if possible. When I first started, if a piece went wrong, I would just leave it and start a new one. I spend so much time on my pieces now that there’s no way I’d discard them. I usually have an idea of which areas are going to be tricky but often it can be something unexpected that causes me issues.
I take regular progress photos which really help me see my work another way, almost as an outsider. Near the end of my pieces, I stop using the original photo of my subject and use the latest photo of my piece, this helps me to see any areas that need work and enhancing. The most important part of my embroidery is observing all the details, the stitching part is almost secondary to that. I’m often asked about my embroidery technique, and I usually say I stitch how I draw, it’s a simplistic answer but I’m not sure how else to explain what goes on between my eyes, brain, and fingers. I try to stitch what I see. I love realism, photorealism and hyperrealistic art and I wanted to use thread rather than pencils or paint to create my own. I strive to create pieces which make the viewer question if what they are seeing is a painting, drawing or a photo of a real object. Not that I’m trying to hide the fact that it’s embroidery, I like that the viewer may have to zoom in or look closer to see the stitches.
I think my balloons were the turning point for me. I stitched several of them between bird and animal projects. I had a go at stitching a foil love balloon and I enjoyed trying to make it as realistic as possible, attempting to create a 3D effect by depicting the light and shade with various colours of thread. This was the first step towards the style I use today. At the start of this year, I decided I wanted to challenge myself and improve my skills by choosing more difficult or unusual subject matter. I have stitched glass, bubble wrap, scissors and foil eggs and I feel I’ve learned something with each piece. Embroidery is incredibly popular, and I like the idea that my work stands out from the crowd when I choose subjects which aren’t typically seen in embroidery. I love it when people recognise my work and style and I hope to keep challenging myself to create pieces that change people’s perception of embroidery art. I feel like I’ve found my style and the subject matter is endless.
I couldn’t believe it when I was accepted into the Society of Embroidered work, it’s such an honour to be part of a society alongside artists I admire which is promoting textile arts as art, rather than a craft which unfortunately is seen as less valuable. Even though I’m quite early on in my embroidery career I have my whole lifetime of creativity and experience behind me and hopefully many more ahead of me.
I chose the name Peacocks & Pinecones because I love peacocks and think they are beautiful and pinecones because I find them interesting. I didn’t want to use my real name as I felt embarrassed when I first started my Instagram account. I didn’t want people to know it was me as I doubted my work was good enough. I still love the p & p name, but I may start using my name in the future. My mindset has changed, as long as I’m producing work I’m proud of, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.